Campbell Robb, the Chief Executive of the homelessness charity Shelter, recently commented on the housing crisis in the UK, saying: “Astronomical house prices mean that millions of people are finding themselves trapped in our broken rental market with little chance of ever finding a stable place to call home.” As the government continues to slash benefits to those most in need and rent continues to rise more than earnings, 2014 will bring a wave of evictions across the UK and the whole of Europe, leading to thousands of vulnerable adults and children being forced into overcrowded hostels, temporary accommodation, friend’s sofas, and on to the streets. 18,000 people are evicted from social housing alone each year – the equivalent of the entire population of Stamford. In the UK, bailiffs are the guys who turn up to enforce those evictions. They are comparable to ‘repo men’ in the US.
Gleefully leaping upon the excuse created by the Government´s policy of providing housing benefit at less than the actual rent of a property, Britain´s biggest property gangster Fergus Wilson has declared that he will be evicting 200 families in one sweep – a fifth of his total tenants, all of whom are on housing benefit. Quoted between mouthfuls of having his cake and eating it, he said, “Rents have gone north, and benefit levels south. The gap is such that I have taken the decision to withdraw from taking tenants on housing benefit. From what I can gather just about all other landlords have done the same. Our situation is that not one of our working tenants is in arrears – all those in arrears are on housing benefit.”
The Government’s solution? They are organizing to criminalize squatting in commercial properties, completing Mike Weatherby´s war on squatters and capitalizing on his success at criminalizing residential squatting in 2011. The 2011 Law can be seen as preparation for an economic future where tenants refusing the bailiffs and occupying their homes in defiance on the law becomes commonplace. They also plan to criminalize rough sleepers and reduce people to exchanging stamps for groceries from food-banks. Meanwhile, the lauded solution to the crisis – namely the help-to-buy scheme, by which first-time buyers are given money to support their mortgage application – is forcing property prices in London up by £100 per day. The systemic persecution of the poor is threatening to return the UK to pre-WWII social conditions.
Housing is a human right. Tenants and homeowners need to defend themselves against unscrupulous landlords and a banking system that is hopelessly corrupt and biased. Where is the bailout for the poor? Banks that went bust were bought out by the Government to keep them afloat. Those who default on mortgages or fall into rent arrears are left to sink.
Historically, this is a continuation of a feudal system of dominance and control, whereby the biggest, hardest bastards around would group together and make up some reason why they had an inherent right to rule over others, and thusly would use violence, repression, and the laws they write for themselves to murder, exploit and oppress anyone who was weaker or less organised than they were. In the past, we called them kings, lords, knights. Now, we call them politicians, police and bailiffs.
The bailiff in particular must be viewed as the lowest form of class traitor and collaborator. Bailiffs are available online for as cheap as 70 pounds per eviction. They may title themselves “sheriffs of the people”, but the only sheriff they resemble is the Sheriff of Nottingham. Next year the BBC is launching its new docu-soap, “The Sheriff’s Are Coming”, another propaganda ploy in the meme of Cops, that will work tirelessly to portray them as some kind of working class heroes, when in reality, bailiffs are the people who evict the vulnerable, elderly and impoverished out of their homes and into the streets on a daily basis. We have met bailiffs whose callous attitude to their work, always justified meekly as “just doing their job”, would squeeze a tear from a stone. It makes you wonder how they manage to compartmentalize the damage and pain they cause on a daily basis as part of their work. At least the police and politicians are able to hide behind the illusion of the public good, but even the most deluded bailiff must realize that he is the lowest form of lackey, a hired goon of the capitalist system.
Yet the number of applications for a bailiff’s license continues to rise. It’s arguably the appeal of joining the bigger firm, in the manner that those who are oppressed will learn to oppress others, in order to claw back some semblance of power and control. If you can’t beat them, join them. Bailiffs are notorious for aggressiveness and overstatement of their powers. They are unscrupulous and untrustworthy as required by their profession, and it is important for people to resist their actions and make them pay for every penny they extort from people. Remember – you don´t have to open your door to a bailiff, and as a rule, we make them smash through barricades to get in. There is a grim sense of justice to be taken in last year’s shooting of a bailiff and a housing officer during an attempted eviction in Brixton, London.
The use of violence is of course an extreme response, but one that will undoubtedly become more common as people being evicted from their homes, their neighborhoods, their communities realize that no alternative is being offered them beyond destitution and despair. People need to realize that they are not alone, that they are not the only ones this corrupt economic system wants to tread into the dirt and seize the homes of. There is the potential for national unity behind the idea that if you are being evicted, then I am being evicted. Through community-lead direct action we can resist evictions and keep people in their homes. This will force landlords, banks, bailiffs and politicians to seriously address the housing crisis and begin to consider alternative solutions. One thing is certain – putting people on the street will only deepen this crisis and lead to a spiral of social degeneration, criminalization and poverty.